Book Review
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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

How Starbucks Saved My Life

I met an American couple over coffee, and the wife asked if I knew the story of Starbucks. I had to admit that I did not, and she gave me a brief heads-up on the owner of the coffee chain who had come from nothing and today was a huge success.

The following day I was wandering around the Bookazine shelves and How Starbucks Saved My Life caught my eye. Was this Jung’s Theory of Synchronicity, or just plain old-fashioned serendipity? Whatever, I presumed it was an omen and I selected it for this week’s book review.

The Starbucks story as related to me by the charming American lady was one of those rags to riches tales, but this book “How Starbucks Saved My Life” (ISBN 978-0-00-726886-3, Harper and Collins, 2007) was quite the reverse, a true riches to rags tale, written by Michael Gill, once a high flyer in the advertising world who came back down to earth with a thump.

Whilst at the bottom of his slump, author Gill finds himself offered a job at Starbucks. Not to be a high flying executive, but to be a barista. He takes it when he finds that health insurance is part of the package, something he could not afford before. (Perhaps President Obama has a point here?)

Michael Gill exudes an honesty in his description of himself, his upbringing, his rise through the advertising world, which he realizes later was done at the expense of his children, his collapsed marriage and his new dependant child. Perhaps a catharsis, but you can feel for this man, who outwardly embodied success, but inwardly embraced failure.

So much was new for this man, a reject from big business in his 60’s, with still a raft of responsibilities. Even the rush of commuting to be at work on time. He had never been a simple employee. It was all new. “And I had to face the brutal yet everyday fact that I was here (Starbucks) because of my own financial mismanagement, my sexual needs that had led me to stray. I was not some special person singled out for justice by God. It was hard, terribly hard, for me to give up my sense of a special place in the universe.”

As he progresses as an employee, author Gill uses the flash-back technique, to explain the difficulties he has in adjusting to his new situation, in fact, his new life as an employee and not a member of the upper echelon, looking down as he once did, upon the lowly worker. For this man, this was a completely new experience, having come from a privileged family in the first place.

Not only does Michael Gill learn what it is like to be an ‘ordinary’ worker, but he also learns about racial discrimination making the jump from white upper class majority, to becoming a member of a racial minority group in his almost all African-American Starbucks store.

At B. 395, this represents excellent value for an excellent book. It makes you want to visit your local Starbucks and enquire after Mike.